ACLU of New Jersey Survey: Immigrant Students at Risk of Exclusion in One Out of Four Schools

Affiliate: ACLU of New Jersey
August 30, 2006 12:00 am

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State Department of Education Urged to Ensure
Equal Access to School for All Students

NEWARK, NJ — The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey today called on the state Department of Education to put an end to school practices that violate state and federal laws by requiring that parents who wish to enroll their children in public school provide private information about them, such as their Social Security numbers. This practice has the most chilling effect on immigrant students seeking to register for school, the ACLU said.

“The fact that one-quarter of schools in our survey illegally require such information is particularly disconcerting given that the law is so clear,” said ACLU of New Jersey Legal Director Ed Barocas.

The ACLU of New Jersey conducted a nine-month survey and found that one in four New Jersey public schools illegally requested Social Security numbers or asked about other information that would reveal the immigration status of children seeking to enroll in school. New Jersey law and a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court ruling prohibit these practices.

Based on the pervasiveness of the problem, the ACLU of New Jersey sent a letter today to the New Jersey Department of Education to apprise the agency of this illegal practice and demand corrective action. The ACLU also sought assistance from the Department of the Public Advocate.

Specifically, the ACLU of New Jersey called on the state Department of Education to:

Issue a formal, written directive to all school superintendents in New Jersey reminding them of the law; monitor compliance; require school districts to train frontline school personnel who handle such inquiries from parents of prospective students; and require school districts to revise all registration forms, including informationposted on Web sites, so they comply with the law.

“We are hopeful that with the support of the Public Advocate and the Department of Education, this matter will be rectified shortly,” Barocas said. “Every child in New Jersey has a right to public education, and it is in our society’s best interest to ensure that they go to school and get an education.”

Because families turned away from schools are often unaware of their rights or how to assert them, the ACLU of New Jersey also requested that the Department of Education require that school districts provide parents with a bilingual (English/Spanish) fact sheet by no later than the next school year (2007-2008). The fact sheet would inform parents of their legal rights; specifically point out that the demand for Social Security numbers is illegal; and note that immigration status has no bearing on a child’s eligibility to enroll in school.

Prompted by complaints from concerned parents, the ACLU of New Jersey launched an investigation that took place from December 2005 to August 2006, surveying a sample of schools across the state to determine whether they request such information from parents who seek to register their children for school.

The ACLU of New Jersey project team, made up of volunteers and staff members, called and made contact with 224 school districts in 16 counties throughout New Jersey and found that 57 school districts — one in four — illegally required Social Security numbers or asked about the immigration status of students seeking to enroll.

The ACLU of New Jersey sent letters to these noncompliant school districts in February 2006 and April 2006 to remind them of the law and ask that they no longer require Social Security numbers or other proof of immigration status for children seeking to enroll in school.

In its letters to school districts, the ACLU of New Jersey also requested that the districts’ demands for Social Security numbers or information about immigration status be removed from enrollment forms and that administrative staff who handle such inquiries be trained about the law.

Of the 57 noncompliant schools, nearly two-thirds responded by saying they would amend their forms or retrain staff. Thirteen schools (23 percent) denied ever asking for Social Security numbers and another eight (14 percent) schools did not respond to ACLU of New Jersey letters.

In addition, the ACLU of New Jersey found repeated instances in which school districts posted erroneous information on their Web sites. A few of the schools that denied requesting Social Security numbers or said they had corrected their forms still have such illegal requests posted on enrollment forms on their Web sites.

The ACLU of New Jersey will continue to monitor any complaints from parents who report being required to produce Social Security numbers or other information that reveals immigration status in order to enroll their children in public school.

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